How to Build a 'Minimalist' Computer


A personal computer is a great device that can be used for completing many tasks or for entertainment. Many things people need to do can be conveniently be done over the Internet, like sending mail, paying bills, software development (for computer programmers), and even schoolwork. They can also be a medium for great gaming. However, a computer doesn't always need to be a fired up hot rod sports car type. They can be pretty basic, they can run without sound cards, mice, cases, or even the CMOS battery. It doesn't take much to have a functional computer that is actually usable. If you're on an extreme budget and need a computer to use for simple things like browsing the internet or simply old applications, read on.

Part 1

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    Determine your budget. How much are you willing to spend on a computer? If you're willing to spend more than $200, try reading Build a Computer. If you're spending less, then continue to read.
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    Understand computer hardware. Try researching computer hardware online or in libraries. Understand what is necessary and what is not. You need a motherboard, a CPU, heat sync, and compatible memory. You also need a power supply, graphics card, and one drive (probably two). You need cables to mount the drives as well. You also need a keyboard, monitor, and external power cable with which to power on, see, and control your computer. Try looking at the following pictures to know what hardware looks like.
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    Decide on compatible hardware for your computer. Make sure everything is compatible. First make sure that you have a motherboard. Then make sure the CPU is compatible, then the memory. Then check to see that the graphics card will fit, and that any other cards (if you want to connect to the internet, ethernet/wireless/modem card) will fit in the slots on the motherboard. So, if you bought an older or even used or refurbished motherboard, you may want PCI and AGP cards, and if it's really old, ISA cards, if it's newer, you may want PCI-Express.[1][2][3][4]Since you're being cheap, make sure that the motherboard supports IDE drives. Then choose a CD-ROM, Floppy, or Hard Drive to go with your computer. You may want to have a Hard Drive with either a CD or Floppy or even all three. If you're simple, all three of these drives together can be pretty cheap.
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    Check the prices of the parts you are buying. Make sure they fit into your budget.
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    Once you have decided that the parts fit into your budget, compile a list of them so you can buy them. Try going to your local computer supply store, [], [], or any other computer wholesale site you know. You can also try looking on a search engine for multiple people selling used parts. Used parts are usually cheaper and, if you're lucky, modded to have better performance.

Part 2

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    Read all of the user manuals with the hardware. These will tell you if you need to move any jumpers on the hardware or install any drivers for them to work properly.
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    Mount the motherboard into the case. The case will have holes for stand-offs (where the screws screw into). Make sure you place these stand-offs in the correct position on the case in relation to where the holes are at on the motherboard. A misplaced stand-off can ruin a motherboard if it touches the circuitry.
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    Plug the CPU into the socket. You should be careful doing this, since this is pretty much the computer itself.
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    Mount the cooler/heat sink onto the CPU. Use thermal paste to evenly distribute the heat onto the cooler/heat sink. Having adequate cooling for your CPU is important, a CPU that is not cool will cause an unstable computer and shorten the life of the CPU.
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    Put in the CMOS battery, it is a necessary part of the computer. It saves your BIOS settings including your date and time. If you don't have one then you can visit your local computer store and ask for one.
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    Plug in the memory blocks.
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    Plug in the power to the motherboard. The colorful cables coming from the ATX power supply are the power cables, find the cables that fit the power slot on the motherboard.
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    Plug in the graphics card. The graphics card is one of the extra cards off of the motherboard. This is the only necessary out of the cards unless your motherboard has one built in. It would be a good idea to plug in any other cards you have as well (again, if it's a web browsing computer, these cards would be your ethernet/wireless/modem cards).
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    Mount the disk drives. If you were being cheap you bought IDE drives. Set the IDE pins according to what they are (master/slave drives). If you have a Hard Drive and a CD-ROM, set the Hard Drive to master and CD-ROM to slave. Then mount the floppy drive. It has no pin set, just plug it in. Note that it requires a floppy cable, not an IDE cable. Make sure you flip the cable to the right orientation on all drives.
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    Give the IDE drives power. Find the corresponding power cables and plug them in to the power slots on the drives.
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    Hook up your computer. Plug in the monitor, keyboard, and power cable. Turn on the computer and enter the BIOS. On most computers, you can enter the BIOS by pressing DEL or one of the function keys (F1, F2, etc.). Tell the computer what you have done. Also set the date and time (if you installed a CMOS battery).

Part 3

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    Configure the computer to boot to CD-ROM or Floppy. If you have an operating system on Floppy, be sure to enable boot up floppy seek.
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    Boot to the disk and start the installation of the operating system. Follow the onscreen instructions and format the C: drive to a filesystem according to the operating system you are installing. For information on file systems, contact Boidsie.
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    Follow the onscreen instructions to install the operating system.
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    You have finished building a very basic computer!


  • Try buying old computers and taking out parts you could use.
  • If you didn't buy a case, but still would like to have one, you can build a computer case. Be creative... they can be made out of anything, even cardboard or Legos! Just make sure they are large enough to accommodate your hardware. If you built it out of Legos, glue them together and use a drill to make screw holes.


  • Never eject the CPU from a running computer!
  • Never touch computer circuitry while it is running. You won't get shocked, but you could potentially fry the hardware.
  • Never eject the BIOS from a running computer!

Article Info

Categories: Hardware